“Give Thy Brand to the Consumer”

MarketingProfs.com offers The 12 Tenets of Social Media Marketing which are both funny and wise. Their audience is broad, they’re talking about marketing anything. But what they have to say is very relevant to those marketing specifically to fans, especially this pearl o’ wisdom:

XI. Give thy brand to the consumer

They will take very good care of it, for they will give it back to you in better shape than when they got it. Fear not that thy consumer shall have input in your brand. But heed closely thy clueless ad agency so it does not chargeth thee a hefty fee when in fact the consumer creates thy ads.

They will take very good care of it. Don’t fear their input. Don’t pay others for your fans’ creativity. Right on.

Yahoo Building Brand Fan Sites

The Los Angeles Times reports that Yahoo is building websites for fans of “the 100 hottest entertainment brands,” a project modestly dubbed “Brand Universe.” Their notion is that there are zillions of brand fans out there and the site that gives them a place to rally around their brand fandom will reap the benefits of that fandom. If it’s not the brand sites themselves, well then, they figure, let us step into the breach:

Most of the brands selected by Yahoo already have their own websites. But what sets this project apart is that Yahoo is using other companies’ products to promote its own — with or without the cooperation of those companies. “We’d like to work with brand owners,” said Vince Broady, Yahoo’s head of games, entertainment and youth properties. “But we don’t necessarily need the brand owners to do this.”

They have used their own internal statistics to figure out which brands have the most “passionate audiences” in the demographics desirable to advertisers. Among the brands they plan on promoting this way: Wii, The Office, The Sims, Lost, and all things Harry Potter. They’ve already made one for Wii:

The site, wii.yahoo.com, aims to be a central depository of all things Wii. It has attracted an audience of 1.2 million unique viewers, the company said. For the Wii-obsessed, it offers pictures by Yahoo’s Flickr photo service and links to articles and blogs about Wii. The Wii site will be “pushed” to places on Yahoo where Wii fans might be, Broady said.

Techdirt is down on the whole idea, offering this take:

So Yahoo is re-creating the fan site, plenty of which already exist elsewhere on the internet. Except that while those can draw their content from a wide range of sources, Yahoo’s sites will only have content from a select group of content providers with whom the company enters into deals. Basically, it sounds like Yahoo thinks it has a bunch of content that is somehow getting lost among all of its properties (not hard to imagine, since Yahoo has such a plethora of disparate sites and services), and it’s looking for new ways to draw traffic and sell advertising. Because these sites will be cheap to put up, and won’t require the company to create any original content, the economics of it doesn’t differ all that much from splogs, which throw up content on a site and hope to draw some traffic to it.

And of course they’re right, but that’s what makes it a good strategy on Yahoo’s part. The point about there already being loads of existing fan sites is dead on, but this could serve as an entree into fandom for new fans and I don’t see any danger of their replacing fan-driven fan sites that are almost inherently opposed to self-monitization. It will be interesting to see who these sites appeal to, and whether they will serve different niches than the fan-driven sites that already exist for any popular brand.

Yahoo’s interest in doing this is a recognition that passionate fans are not lifeless weirdos, but normal people with disposable income whom companies are better off cultivating than suing or marginalizing. I don’t have any problem with companies trying to make money off of fandom so long as there is a balance between the fans’ labor and the fans’ rewards. Because they are big players, I think Yahoo doing this is on balance a good thing.

From another vantage point, it’s also interesting to see the merger of “brand” and “tv show/gaming console/fill-in-the-blank-with-things-that-people-don’t-usually-call-brands.” When I first saw “Brand Universe” I thought this was going to be about Nike and Louis Vuitton, but it could just as easily be called “Fan Universe.”